DELANO, CA — Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez and Paul Chávez, César Chávez's son and president of the César Chávez Foundation, celebrated the life and legacy of the legendary farm labor and civil rights leader in a ceremony to officially dedicate the “Forty Acres” site as a National Historic Landmark. Forty Acres is where many historical events from the 1960's farm worker movement that Chavez championed which dramatically improved the lives of millions of migrant workers.
The dedication is part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative to establish a conservation ethic for the 21st Century and to reconnect Americans – especially young people - to their history, culture, and the great outdoors.
“César Chávez is an American hero and one of the great civil rights icons of our country's history,” said Secretary Salazar. “His leadership, tireless work ethic, and selfless sacrifice helped forge a new era of justice for millions of farm workers and gave them hope for a better future, both for themselves and for their children. Recognizing the Forty Acres site as a National Historic Landmark will help ensure that César Chávez's story, and the story of all who struggled with him, is remembered, honored, and passed along to future generations.”
“The work my dad and so many others began at the Forty Acres laid the foundation that our movement would labor in the community as well as the workplace,” said Paul Chávez. “In so doing, they empowered and inspired millions of Latinos and other Americans to social and political activism.”
“Over five decades, the Forty Acres has been and still is where we gather to meet, organize, serve people, gain inspiration, celebrate and mourn,” said Arturo Rodriguez. “It is the heart of our movement in the Central Valley.”
During the ceremony, Secretary Salazar noted that the National Park Service is conducting a “special resource study” of sites that are significant to Chávez's life and the farm movement in the western United States. The purpose of the study is to evaluate important sites, determine whether they might be suitable for protection and interpretation, and determine if there is an appropriate role for the agency.
“Our National Park System tells the story of America, and César Chávez and the farm worker movement are an important part of that story,” Salazar said. “We are looking for ways to tell this story to the American people in a way that truly honors his legacy.”
Forty Acres was acquired by César Chávez' brother in 1967 and quickly became the focal point of the movement to improve the wages, working conditions and quality of life of migrant farm workers, serving as the headquarters of the United Farm Workers of America. Chávez, a supporter of non-violent change, engaged in long fasts at Forty Acres to attract national attention to the plight of migrant workers.
Under Chávez' s leadership, union members successfully lobbied the California legislature to pass the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, the first law in the United States that recognized the collective bargaining rights of farm workers.